September 19, 2020

The Benevolent Compost King … and his loyal subjects

… and his loyal subjects
By Kristi Kates | April 7, 2018

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
In the case of David Zaiss, Lily Culver, and the Interotten Community Compost program, that trash is turned into something that will grow into treasure all on its own … given a little time.

Interotten Community Compost is a local program in Interlochen that, for a small fee, provides clients (both residences and businesses) with buckets for their food waste and other biodegradeable materials. Interotten then picks up the buckets, brings them to a composting bin, and transforms the waste into finished compost.
“Ried Meyer is actually the person who started the program here after he saw similar programs like Carter’s Compost in Traverse City,” said Zaiss, who currently oversees the Interotten program. “He actually worked with Carter and his family for a while, but then he moved to Creekside Cottages here in Interlochen, and started his own composting program.”
Zaiss initially met Meyer at the Interlochen Library, where Meyer was in the middle of doing some composting work for the facility; the two men talked, and both a friendship and a composting collaboration was born. 

“We both happened to be on bicycles the day we met at the library, so when I asked to see what he was doing, he invited me to go with him. He was going around picking up the buckets of scraps on a trailer attached to his bicycle, and then taking them back to make the compost. I ended up working with him on the program as a volunteer.”
After Meyer moved to Holland, Michigan, to pursue a job opportunity, Zaiss took over the Interotten program. Meyer’s previous residential facility at Creekside continued to grant Zaiss and Interotten ongoing permission to use part of their land as the compost facility, and in return, Interotten also uses part of Creekside’s property to maintain a large garden.
“We grow a huge variety of flowers and vegetables,” Zaiss said. “The tenants and guests at Creekside get some. We sell some at the Interlochen Farmers Market as well. And anyone who brings kitchen scraps over and dumps them in the Interotten bins is offered anything from the garden that’s ready to pick.”

All of this is done with the help of some ambitious locals — including twelve-year-old Lily Culver.

“Last summer, David — he’s our neighbor — asked us if we would like to help out with the composting,” Lily Culver said. “I wanted to get more involved in the community around where we live. So now we go around and pick up peoples’ buckets of their food waste. We dump it into a bigger bin at Interotten and cover it up with leaves, and it turns into compost.”
Culver’s brother, six-year-old August, often helps as well. When asked what they like about helping with the community program, Lily Culver’s answer was simple.
“This way the waste isn’t just going into a landfill with nothing to do. We put it into a garden to help make more of the food we eat,” she said.
Lily and August’s father, Jeff Culver, a teacher at Silver Lake Elementary School in Traverse City, fully supports his kids’ efforts.
“I look at my role in this as less hands-on with the compost, and as more of a cheerleader. I walk the dogs along with the kids and let them do the work,” he said. “I’m glad they’re involved, as I’ve always been a strong proponent of not throwing food away. We waste so much food. It ends up in the landfill, and then we wonder why some kids come to school hungry every day. It boggles my mind.”

The finished compost — a fine, crumbly, loose material called humus — ends up in several different places. Some of it is put right back into the Interotten gardens at Creekside Cottages. Some of it is given back to the people who have donated their food waste. And some is sold, purchased by people who contact Interotten to procure buckets of the compost for their own home or business gardens.

Zaiss is proud of what he’s doing. To him, the compost is definitely a local treasure, and one that he feels increases the greater good.
“I feel like I’m contributing to the earth by helping people be more aware of their role in the earth,” he said. “Waste isn’t waste if you don’t just throw it away.”

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